Guest Blog: Getting your ROI from trade shows by Eija Hämäläinen

How-to, Conference

Eija Hämäläinen is a B2B sales and marketing professional with over 20 years of work experience. Eija has regularly participated domestic and international trade shows and has been responsible for tens of trade show projects. Today, her company Bitte is helping small and medium-sized companies grow and go international. www.bitte.fi.

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Finding the right customer contacts in any big trade show resembles that of trying to find a needle in a haystack. Improbable, if not impossible entirely.

In the following blogpost I will give practical advice on generating sales leads at trade shows and, more importantly, will discuss nine questions that any B2B startup entrepreneur should ask him/herself:

Before the show

1. Is this the right trade show for us now?

2. What is the best strategy for the show?

3. Do we have enough people for preparations?

During the show

4. How do we differentiate from the others?

5. How to pitch at the show?

6. How do we get only quality leads?

After the show

7. Did we process all our leads?

8. Did we reach out goals?

9. If we attend the show next year, what’s our strategy?

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Before the show

1. Is this the right trade show for us now?

Choosing the most relevant trade show is pretty simple: ask your customers, ask your potential customers and finally, ask your rivals. If you get the same answer from all of them, you are most likely heading to the right venue. By asking, I literally mean asking: call them or ping them on your social media channels. People are usually more that willing to share their experiences on trade shows. Marketing and Sales Directors can usually tell you whether or not the return on investment is satisfactory or not.

The visitor profile is the most important selection criteria. You should be meeting your potential new customers and their decision makers. So, make your desktop research: check the facts and figures of the previous shows and if you cannot find the visitor profile on the website, ask the organiser to send it. Sometimes searching hashtags specific to the event on social media gives you an insight into the show.

2. What is the best strategy for the show?

Rule of thumb: don’t book a stand at a show you're not familiar with. You can scout the show as a visitor and set up meetings to see if you get good contacts. You can also participate many shows with the help of European Enterprise Network as they organise matchmaking venues and offer discounted visitor tickets, too.

My favourite strategy was deployed by Ari Takanen when he was growth hacking at Codenomicon, a company that would later become famous for reporting a security incident called Heartbleed. Ari would sign in for call-for-papers to get speaker slots in all the major security conferences in the world. If the paper was admitted, he would only then reserve a small stand for further discussions over a product demo. This strategy let Ari and his colleagues know at least 6-9 months in advance what shows they would be attending. Plenty of time to set up meetings and get their marketing strategy going.

3. Do we have enough people for preparations?

To be at the right show for the right reasons is only a start. The hardest part of the job is done before the show. I’ve interviewed 120 startups participating in International trade shows and 70% of them fail miserably. No prescheduled 1on1 meetings, no working live demos, no invitations, newsletters or social media updates done, even the accommodation and flight tickets remain unreserved. The most common excuse is that “we all have had something more important to do”. Seriously?

Attending B2B trade shows without any prescheduled meetings is absolute madness. Here’s why. Let’s say that you get 20 meetings, whereof you end up having 10 follow-ups. Maybe five of them will ask for a quotation, but only one will actually close the deal with you. So, booking as many 1on1 meetings before the show is the best way to guarantee a quick return-on-investment. If you struggle with the meetings, ask your VC for help.

During the show

4. How do we differentiate from the others?

Three rules here: if exhibiting, use a simple slogan that explains what you do (like the logo of this company), be active in engaging with the visitors and have a 5 minute break every hour. A slogan is needed to bypass visitors who read your message in 5 seconds. Majority of exhibitors miss their opportunities simply because they’re not interested in unknown visitors nor reaching out to them. So, they let the customers walk away. Engaging with people all day long is tiresome. Having regular breaks keeps you up and running and your body hydrated.

5. How to pitch at the show?

Your elevator pitch usually takes 2 to 5 minutes, but in a trade show you only have 5 to 10 seconds. I usually skip pitching altogether. Instead, my regular question to any visitor has been shamelessly direct: "Are you looking for a solution to save money or make more money?” If my solution fits either of these categories, I usually get people’s attention. Trade show pitching is all about a hook, that little thing in your punch line that makes people curious.

6. How do we get only quality leads?

Simply put: you don’t. What matters is how you process the leads during the show. Do you stack them in your pocket and forget them for a week? Business cards are like ground beef: leave it laying out on a table for a day and it becomes rotten. So, it’s imperative to process the most important leads right away. If not during your next lunch break, then in the evening at the latest. Send a follow-up email or link to materials or invitation to your next webinar. Too tired or busy at the show? It’s not getting any easier, once you’re back in the office. Alternative: have someone in the back-office to sort those contacts out for you.

After the show

7. Did we process all our leads?

Did you get replies to your follow-up actions during the show? Have you sorted out all contacts and stored them into your CRM? There are many free business card reader apps out there that speed up the process. What about sending Linkedin invitations to the people you met during the show? Don’t underestimate the power of a business card in the digital era! Some day the contact you made at the trade show is the one opening doors for your next sales meeting.

8. Did we reach out goals?

Setting up measurable goals for a trade show sets apart the pros from the amateurs. Number of meetings, hot leads, follow-ups, subscribers to company newsletter, all tell you whether you met the right people in a right show. Discuss the results and lessons learned with your team. Wrap up by updating communications channels with trade show updates, news, photos or videos.  

9. If we attend the show next year, what’s our strategy?

Participating a trade show is like going through a full body x-ray: it reveals how well the people, products and processes work in your company. The results are on display for the public 10 hours daily.

When the final hour of the show starts, ask yourself: was our team truly fit for this? Was our product well received by the potential customers? Was this all worth it? If you doubt it, skip exhibiting until you have the needed resources, realistic goals and a solid plan to reach them.

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